A news item published in The Hindu (Chennai Edition ).
April 26, 1994
Rising to the occasion with HAM
"CQ CQ CQ.... Anybody listening ?.... Please reply"
On his sleek, state-of-the art VHF handset Mr. Saad Ali, tries again and again to reach out to his fraternity in Madras. Wherever Mr. Saad Ali goes, he has friends. And these like-minded friends, many of whom have not even seen one another, form a fraternity which possess one of the biggest powers in the world - the power of communication. Yes, they hold the largest communication networks in the world that no government or professional organisation can match. It is the fraternity of HAM or Amateur Radio operators, and Mr. Saad Ali, at 75, is one of the seniormost HAMs in India.
Born and brought up in Japan, Mr. Saad Ali came to India in 1939 after finishing college education. In his teens, like many Japanese, tuning to stations on his crude crystal radio became a passionate hobby for him and that caught the bug. 'But getting a HAM license in Japan was almost impossible'. Even after coming to India, he had to wait till 1958-59 to become a licensed HAM. This was the period when the Amateur Radio Association of India (ARSI) was formed. Those days, there were only a handful of HAMs in India and Mr. Saad Ali became the 323rd licensed amateur.
Later in 1970, along with veteran HAMs like Mr. B.S.Dutta, disgruntled with the functioning of ARSI, he too was instrumental in forming the Federation of Amateur Radio Society of India (FARSI) which in 1993 merged with ARSI and became its western zonal unit.
'Amateur radio operation is a hobby which has immense importance,', the grand old man of Indian HAM says. ' It promotes scientific spirit and prepares children in the field of electronics. And above all, whenever the humanity is in trouble, its services are invaluable as no Government has enough communication facilities to cope with disasters'.
This statement seems to be too modest when the countless inspiring incidents in the annals of HAM show how the operators become good samaritans during the times of disasters, calamities, wars,urgent medical needs etc. With more than three decades of active hobby behind him. Mr. Saad Ali speaks of how the HAMs in India single-handedly managed the colossal commnication and rescue needs during, to name a couple, the morvi disaster and the recent earth quake in Maharashtra.
When the Morvi dam breached, the HAM team from Bombay became the lifeline of the rescue operation. All vital communication among officials, rescue workers, Ministers and police were carried out through the network as all other communication systems collapsed.
During the Latur tragedy also, the operators provided the vital links when the equipment of the military and police failed in the face of massive requirements. One team was dedicated for the Chief Minister while mobile units Patrolled the billages. The convoy of 45 trucks carrying U.S. supplies, spread over a long distance had no other link among them than the mobile HAM units which moved along with them. "The collector of Latur was amazed to see the speed at which the operators reached the ravaged area;, he says.
Among many other exciting incidents in his more than three decades of stint as a HAM, Mr. Ali is proud about his personal involvement to providing the communication link in the first two Himalayan car rallys. The accolades that he had won for systematically linking up the chaotic rally, which went through many adversities, and helping the organisers and participants to cognise the whole scenario, was a testimony to the skills of a HAM and his social commitment.
But could not the same network be misused 'yes. But there are 22 monitoring stations under the Ministry of Communications all over the country to keep a constant tab on conversations'. HAMs importing communication equipment at a concessional custom duty, he says.
Over the years, the technical advancement in HAM had been phenomenal. From voluminous valve sets with low power, the equipment has reached the miniaturised IC stage with high powers. The aerial design also has improved drastically. 'Now motorised aerials with directional propagation can make them reach precise and increase the access manifold. Equipment using satellite are also in use', he says.
Though gratifying moments are aplenty, the veteran HAM is not happy with the current scenario of amateur radio operation in India. Though the genesis of this hobby in India is an old as anywhere in the world, the irony is that of the two million licensed HAMs all over the world, there are only 6,000 Indians. The main reason is the prohibitive costs of the equipment. Nobody in India manufactures HAM radio equipment on a commercial basis and import is the only option for an enthusiast. An ordinary equipment will cost minimum Rs.30,000, which for the common man is unaffordable. An other major reason is the lack of awareness.
The way out? 'Manufacture cheap equipment indigenously costing around 6000, and educate people'. He feels that the government support has been very little.
Mr.Saad Ali is much retired man now. His children look after his industrial units. But when it is HAM, there seems to be no retirement at all.
Author - Mr.G.Pramod Kumar